Writes James Garforth
After an amazing experience volunteering at the Edinburgh International Science Festival last year, I decided that for 2016 I would put together an event of my own. I contacted the EISF, met with them to discuss what was involved, got the approval of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics executive board and set the wheels in motion.
It’s a year later now and I am settling back into my research after a Science Festival wildly more successful than I could have dreamt in 2015. Not only did I organise and host a speaker event in Summerhall that ended up going into 40 minutes of Q & A with an incredibly engaged audience, but also coordinated five days of robotics demos in the National Museum of Scotland that were visited by over 4500 people. Being in contact with Science Festival staff also led to my being asked to be the scientific advisor for a theatre production on AI.
While many academics within the Centre have taken a demo to the National Museum for previous Science Festivals, this was the first time such a large coordinated effort had been made. We had 4 sets of demos ranging from the Baxter robot, who is taller than me, to small, cute Nao robots dancing and chasing a ball and even some cheap 3D printed robots so new they don’t have a product name yet (we call them Archies). 16 first year CDT students and a number of other ECR-affiliated students volunteered a day or more of their time to protect the robots and, more importantly, to engage the visitors with what we, as roboticists, do. The most esteemed of these visitors was comedian and new host of Robot Wars, Dara O Briain, who sent Sethu Vijayakumar (Director of the ECR) an email afterwards applauding our contribution. I had to restrain myself from being too much of a fanboy! Special thanks for the success of this event should go to Alejandro Bordallo, a veteran of public robot demos, whose preparation was responsible for us having so many machines and so few reboots.
I hope that everyone got as much out of this experience as I did. From volunteers learning to communicate their passion for their subject with a new audience to the children in that audience being set on a path towards science and engineering at university in the future. I will certainly be back for more outreach fun next year!